Large events likely to return to Jonesborough in July with restrictions

Jonathan Roberts • May 20, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Large events could return to tourist-starved Jonesborough in July after town leaders debated how to safely bring crowds back to downtown.

In a called meeting Tuesday morning, the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen supported a gradual, limited return of events like Music on the Square and Movies on Main.

“I’m comfortable with the fact that we took a cautious step forward on some of our events, and actually approved to move forward on a couple,” town Mayor Chuck Vest said after the meeting. “I like that we’re trying to find ways to mitigate the risk and restructure how we do events to allow us to do some quality of life things that people need for their mental health.”

During the roughly three-hour meeting, Jonesborough aldermen discussed the reopening of the town’s facilities, rescheduling or modification of town events and possible safety measures like requiring masks.

The mask requirement was much discussed at the meeting, with the aldermen, town attorney and police chief all discussing how they could require it, or if it would even be enforceable.

Vest said requiring masks at ticketed events held inside could be feasible, but requiring masks at an event like Jonesborough Days would be “about impossible.” Town Attorney Jim Wheeler suggested the board avoid requiring masks at events like that because they would not be enforceable unless a separate ordinance was passed, while Police Chief Ron Street also said it would be difficult for his officers to enforce a mask requirement at a large outdoor event.

“It puts us in a bad position to even consider trying to force somebody to wear a mask at any event because it’s their choice — there’s nothing in the law that requires it,” Street said.

Vest said, while he doesn’t think “you can have thousands of people in our town,” there’s a way those events can be held if the number of attendees is reduced, safety measures are increased and social distancing guidelines are respected.

The town discussed the possibility of having events like Music on the Square, Brews and Tunes and Movies on Main be ticketed to reduce the number of people. Alderman Adam Dickson even suggested the possibility of hosting a drive-in version of Movies of Main behind the courthouse.

While the board as a whole was cautious about reopening too soon, board members Virginia Causey and Terry Countermine were particularly concerned about returning too soon.

“I feel that we need to just sit back — wait another month at least — and just see how things are going,” Causey said, later saying her husband is ill and that she “wouldn’t dare” put him at risk by attending a large event right now.

Countermine said that, on a national level, he doesn’t feel as though the curve has flattened enough to the point it can be considered declining. Dr. David Kirschke, director of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office spoke to the board via phone and said “it’s not clear” what stage of the pandemic the region is in, but that the state is “reaping a lot of the benefits from the stay-at-home orders.”

“Whether it’s going to stay low or start to increase, I think we’ll know in the next couple of weeks,” Kirschke said. “Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to say.”

Countermine said the board needs to listen to the experts, and that it’s “a struggle” trying to balance the desires of his heart to return to some form of normalcy and his brain to do what’s in the best interest of public health.

“It’s a struggle, and there’s going to be people upset no matter what decision we make,” Countermine said, later adding that “(t)o expect that, by July 1st we’re going to be out of this — I don’t believe that. I hope and pray for it, but because people are relaxing so much, I’m worried that that flood is coming.”

Vest said it’s important for the town to begin planning for a return to pre-pandemic operations, saying he’s not sure the board “can expect it to get much better” than it currently is.

“There’s no cure coming, we might be living with this for the next six months — it might be much like other illnesses where it comes back every year,” Vest said. “At some point, we have to face that.”

The town will meet again on June 8 to further discuss the future of town events and the reopening of town facilities.

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